"Take heart, Father. At least Rhaegar Targaryen is still dead."
Mance Rayder's second cousin
Below are some of the most common objections to the Mance Rhaegar Theory. You may now consider them answered. I plan to keep this post updated as new, prominent objections arise. In the interest of keeping future topics on track, I also plan to redirect such objections to this post. Please debate them here.
1. Martin's cremation comment
2. Eye witnesses
3. Mance's upbringing
4. Physical appearance
6. Not Martin's style
7. No evidence
8. No narrative purpose
9. Jorah's quote
This is true, and seems to be the strongest evidence against the Mance Rhaegar Theory. However, I will explain why this case is not open and shut.
First, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the Mance Rhaegar Theory is true. In such a scenario, I think we can all agree that it is one of the biggest secrets, if not the biggest secret, in the entire series. George would almost certainly be saving the "big reveal" for the climax of A Song of Ice and Fire. When put to the question, what would you expect the author to say in such a case?
If he outright refused to answer by responding, "What body," "Keep reading," or "Good question, one day you will get an answer," he would be inviting so much speculation as to spoil the grand surprise. The mastermind behind the mystery would have to choose between engaging in a little misdirection and ruining the climax of his magnum opus. It is ridiculous that critics of the theory suggest he would do the latter. George said exactly what I would have expected him to say if an impersonator was slain at the Trident and the body believed to be Rhaegar's was cremated.
Those who rely on this argument must answer the question, "Assuming Mance Rhaegar was true, how should George have answered the question?" If a sufficient answer cannot be provided, then the argument is not a valid reductio ad absurdum. I submit that any answer that spoils the mystery is insufficient.
Second, cremation may be a vague reference to other events. Mance was supposedly burned at the Wall, remember. Rhaegar was born at the massive pyre of Summerhall. It has been suggested that he attempted a similar pyre at the Tower of Joy. It could also be symbolic of burning the past and being reborn like a phoenix. It is a bit of a stretch, but we know there is Targaryen precedent for this.
Remember, the Elder Brother refers to his own death (and that of the Hound) in the sense of becoming a new man. That's just one of many examples in the series. George may be doing the same here.
"The unburnt king supplied some names"
Jon, on cremated Mance
Third, Robert was pleased with the gruesome deaths of Rhaegar's wife and children. He would never allow Rhaegar, the direct object of his never-ending hatred, a dignified, traditional Targaryen cremation. No matter how you slice it, something secretive is going on here.
Finally, George did not actually answer the question about Rhaegar's body! The question has often been misquoted and the answer taken out of context. Here is the original Q&A:
Q: "Who recovered Rhaegar's corpse (if anyone did it) and where was he buried (if he was buried)?"
GRRM: "Rhaegar was cremated, as is traditional for fallen Targaryens. This has been fun, but time is passing and I have another long day tomorrow, and so I´m going to need to wind this up. Three more questions, and let´s close."
It was a specific, two-part question. George only gave the vaguest possible answer to the second part, and completely ignored the first. Then, he made a deliberate effort to change the subject even though he had time to answer more questions! It cannot be denied that George R. R. Martin intentionally refused to discuss who recovered Rhaegar's corpse. Any reasonable person would admit that this revelation actually supports the belief that Rhaegar may not be dead.
Shame on those who have quoted a portion of this out of context when the context makes all the difference.
First, battles are not as easy to follow as they are in the movies. It's not like there was a crowd gathered around the two combatants chanting, "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Watching somebody else's combat is a quick way to become good and dead.
"The singers would have us believe it was all Rhaegar and Robert struggling in the stream for a woman both of them claimed to love..."
The Elder Brother
Second, in the known example of Mance using a "glamour" to disguise himself, the magic was controlled using a ruby held by a black iron fetter. Similarly, Rhaegar's armor was black with encrusted rubies. Not only would his narrow-slitted helm have concealed his face, but the body itself may have been that of an impersonator disguised as Rhaegar using red magic.
Third, Lord Eddard Stark points out that he had to take over because Robert was injured in the battle. The Mance Rhaegar Theory posits that Ned, some of the Kingsguard, and a few other lords are plotting together with Rhaegar. (Ser Barristan Selmy was not in on the secret, but he was also greatly injured.) Ned would have been responsible for cleaning up the mess, and had a very strong motive for interfering with the evidence. If a few of his close vassals found out and/or assisted him, they would have been great candidates to take to the Tower of Joy.
"Better rubies than bones."
Fourth, the Elder Brother of the Quiet Isle, where six of Rhaegar's rubies washed up, is known for healing - and being healed of - wounds that others would dismiss for being fatal.
Fifth, I believe that "brothers" assisted Rhaegar after the battle. There are two indicators of this. I'll expand on them elsewhere, but here's the basic rundown:
The song, The Dornishman's Wife, is a retelling of part of Rhaegar's life. It says that a man was mortally wounded, prayed over by his brothers, and then "he smiled and he laughed and he sung." He then says "my days here are done," meaning that he must go into hiding, and "all men must die," which means that his new quest is to stop the Others and the Faceless from destroying the world. (According to The Grand Faceless Men Conspiracy Theory, "all men must die" actually means "humanity must be exterminated." I suggest that it has a double meaning in the song, too.)
In Mance's shadowcat story, which is another retelling of his fall in the war, his "brothers" carried him to where he was healed. "Brothers" might refer to his brothers-in-law, Ned and Ben. It might be some of the Kingsguard. It could also be the brothers of the Quiet Isle.
Note that Mance gives Jon both of these retellings at their first meeting. The very first words out of Mance's mouth to Jon were in a song about his mother! "How did you like the song, lad?" That's cute, Dad.
Finally, Jaime gives us this very interesting tidbit: "On the morning after the battle, the crows had feasted on victors and vanquished alike, as once they had feasted on Rhaegar Targaryen after the Trident. How much can a crown be worth, when a crow can dine upon a king?"
If crows munched on Rhaegar - or his replacement - they probably would have gone for the eyes first as they tend to do, and even his scalp if his helm fell off. Rhaegar's eyes were his most defining characteristic. Though silver hair is a bit more common and easier to reproduce, even that may not have remained. If there was a replacement in Rhaegar's armor, nobody may have had the opportunity to find out.
Additionally, this demonstrates that the aftermath of the Trident was extremely chaotic. The great Rhaegar Targaryen - the crown prince - was left to lie long enough for crows to feast on him! This would have given Ned ample opportunity to mess with the evidence, such as discovering a dying Rhaegar and replacing him with a man whose head was "feasted" upon. Jaime's rhetorical question is a clue. Ned clearly honored the memory of Rhaegar. He would not have allowed such shame to come to him if he could help it.
If the Mance Rhaegar Theory is true, the only people with direct knowledge of the origins of this story, such as Qhorin Halfhand, would want to keep Rhaegar's identity secret. The tale is almost certainly a tall one. Rhaegar would have had help from loyal friends and even family, and Qhorin is a prime candidate for such a helping hand. (Halfhand of the King?) Almost nobody remaining at the Wall remembers as far back as Mance's childhood. Furthermore, Mance operated at the Shadow Tower, well away from prying eyes and ears.
Remember, the Mance Rhaegar Theory posits that several people with great influence over the Night's Watch are in on the secret. Ned Stark does not have insignificant sway over the Wall, and Benjen is First Ranger. Maester Aemon is a relative of Rhaegar, and so was the past Lord Commander Brynden Rivers. Also, how many Targaryen loyalists may have ended up at the Wall after Robert's Rebellion?
There is even a very solid theory that Jeor Mormont knowingly gave the ancestral Targaryen sword, Blackfyre, to Jon. (Update: GRRM explicitly stated on his blog that Longclaw is not Blackfyre, but I believe Dark Sister fits better anyway. More on that another time.) The man also demonstrates a thorough knowledge of Targaryen history, and an awareness that the wildlings are not the real threat to the Watch.
It is almost certain that Mormont was in on the conspiracy. Perhaps Ned even encouraged the Old Bear to join the Watch and used his influence to help him rise to Lord Commander for this purpose - a rapid rise that Ser Denys Mallister lamented. In fact, I can find no mention of House Mormont in The World of Ice and Fire by Maester Yandel, even though it mentions many less significant houses as well as several references to Bear Island. It seems that House Mormont may have been silently established by Eddard Stark some time after Robert's Rebellion and Yandel's work.
Furthermore, the wildling, Osha, actually contradicted the story that Mance was born as a wildling and raised at the wall when she said, "He can call himself King- beyond-the-Wall all he likes, but he’s still just another old black crow who flew down from the Shadow Tower. He’s never tasted winter. I was born up there, child, like my mother and her mother before her and her mother before her, born of the Free Folk. We remember." Why wouldn't Mance want the wildlings to know he was born as one of them, and that he has always lived in the North? Perhaps he knew he couldn't fool them, and didn't need to.
This is true. Mance is plain looking. His hair is turned mostly gray from brown, and his eyes are brown. Rhaegar was stunning, with silver hair and deep, lilac eyes.
However, if you think this destroys the Mance Rhaegar Theory, then we must not be reading the same books. Mance has proven willing to disguise himself and impersonate others multiple times. Such disguises include the musician at Robert's feast in Winterfell, Rattleshirt, and Abel the bard. In addition, Arya's branch of the tale has shown us how looks can be very deceiving by "Faceless" means in this series. There's even the possibility of "warging" into other people such as Bran does to Hodor, though I do not think the Mance Rhaegar Theory needs to resort to that unusual device.
"I have a great fondness for the charms of women."
Mance Rayder, on glamours
I don't see how Mance's actions can be described as cowardly. He earned the respect of the Wildlings through many feats of strength, courage, and cunning. He is actively working to save the realm - and those beyond it - from the greatest threat it has ever known. His efforts toward this end have been skillfully well-played as well as bold, and his goal for the safety of the realm is that of a true king.
"I knew Mance Rayder, Jon. He is an oathbreaker, yes... but he has eyes to see, and no man has ever dared to name him faintheart."
Jeor Mormont, on girly men calling Mance a coward
"Mance had spent years assembling this vast plodding host, talking to this clan mother and that magnar, winning one village with sweet words and another with a song and a third with the edge of his sword, making peace between Harma Dogshead and the Lord o' Bones, between the Hornfoots and the Nightrunners, between the walrus men of the Frozen Shore and the cannibal clans of the great ice rivers, hammering a hundred different daggers into one great spear, aimed at the heart of the Seven Kingdoms. He had no crown nor scepter, no robes of silk and velvet, but it was plain to Jon that Mance Rayder was a king in more than name."
Jon Snow, screaming in your face that Mance is Rhaegar
I think it's entirely consistent with his style. There are clearly many conspiracies afoot that have come to fruition. Also, many others (ahem) in the series have been thought dead that were not. Just ask Bran, Rickon, Davos, the Clegane brothers, Catelyn, Beric Dondarrion, and the Elder Brother. Oh, and Mance himself, of course.
References to Rhaegar in the later books seem to have been growing, which is not what you would expect for a dead man from the previous war. Look at how much Ser Barristan Selmy and Lord Jon Connington have been reminiscing about their fallen prince, for example. George is trying to tell you something. He's setting the stage for the big shocker that you totally should have seen coming but didn't.
If you don't agree, however, consider this: the biggest secret of his magnum opus will necessarily be without precedent.
This is blatantly, demonstrably false. Anyone making this claim should be given a dictionary. Evidence and proof are two very different things. One can make a case that the theory has no proof, but one cannot reasonably claim that it has no evidence. There is evidence to support Rhaegar's death as well as his life. The job of the reader is to weigh the evidence and determine which conclusion is better explained by it.
Many would have said the same about killing off Ned. I suggest you wait to see how George pulls it off with his masterful prose.
Jorah Mormont said, "Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died."
How's Jorah's wisdom working out for him?
Yes. Oh, yes!
Additions and corrections welcome in the comments!